Lane: Injuries mount, player development is slow and the youth on roster being counted on to succeed will fail. With three starters along the defensive line unproven, couple with some age and past/present injuries at LB, the Browns defense could easily be the undoing of this 2011 team.
While the Browns offense is challenged because of a new scheme and questionable difference makers, it's the lack of quality and overall depth that appears to be the pressing need. An injury at nearly any position could create negative results for this team, on both sides of the ball.
The game is generally won or lost in the trenches, unless a team has a dynamic presence at quarterback and strong weapons to get the ball to. As quarterback Colt McCoy develops, he could be the strong leader and presence, but the questionable array of receivers doesn't force the opposition to respect this team.
If the season turns south, you can bet injuries and slow development played a major role.
Fred: The Browns injury parade that started in the preseason will continue into the regular season. Shurmur and his staff will continually be working the practice squad and the waiver wire to keep the Browns competitive.
The Browns will pay for it with another losing season, but many of the young players will gain valuable experience and the Browns will be able to sort out what they have or don't have moving forward. The Browns will find out whether Colt McCoy is the franchise quarterback, but in a worst case scenario they will find out they have to use their two first-round draft choices in 2012 to get into a position to draft one.
DK: The howls for Mike Holmgren to again rescue the franchise are heard early on, as the Browns' razor-thin depth is continually exposed. Playing behind an inexperienced offensive line, quarterback Colt McCoy is badly beaten on a weekly basis, while the offense again cannot field a playmaker beyond Peyton Hillis. Pat Shurmur's passing game proves to be an anemic effort consisting of check down routes, while the still young receivers continue to struggle.
Defensively, Dick Jauron's schemes are run by a group of third-string talent, as veterans Scott Fujita, D'Qwell Jackson and Sheldon Brown struggle to stay on the field. Holes at defensive end and cornerback are exposed, as the Browns' continued lack of a pass rush again translates to opposing quarterbacks ripping the team's secondary apart. Adding to the frustration is the Browns' inability to capitalize on their traditionally solid special teams play – thanks to draconian league rule changes.
Don: Just a year ago, worst case scenario centered on Colt McCoy starting an NFL game. He started eight and the Browns won five games. In the end, some good came of it. The Browns entered 2011 with McCoy as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback.
Still, worst case scenario centers on McCoy. If he digresses, the Browns and the franchise will be back at square one. Sure, other positions around the quarterback have improved, but depth is thin and if McCoy is not the answer the Browns -- once again -- will be looking at a rookie quarterback in 2012 and the chance at perennial playoff berths is another three-to-five years away.
Barry:In going young and letting go of the safety net of slow-but-capable veterans amassed under Eric Mangini, Tom Heckert knew he was taking chances on his way to the future. If injuries hit the team hard, the Browns GM knew he would be putting Pat Shurmer in a tough situation, with undercooked talent being served up on a weekly basis as the Browns ran the AFC North gauntlet at the end of the season. The Browns front office went into the season knowing their young roster could make for a bumpy ride, but that the eventual payoff would be worth it.
No such luck. With the reliable Eric Steinbach no longer available, the dominoes started falling on the Browns offensive line early, as teams exploited an underwhelming right side and the youth at left guard. Against Marvin Lewis' linebacking crew in week one, Colt McCoy was the victim. In successive weeks, other key components went down to injury, resulting in real playing time for youngsters like Jordan Cameron, Buster Skrine, and Armond Smith.
Shurmer does indeed pay the price for team's thin depth chart. With back-ups dotting the back seven on defense, opponents are able to pass effectively against the Browns by throwing where Joe Haden or TJ Ward aren't and by taking advantage of uninspiring pass coverage by the Browns linebacking corps. The team's attempt to keep games close by burning clock fails due to injuries to the over-used Peyton Hillis and ever-fragile Montario Hardesty. The team not only starts losing, but does so by wide margins.
On their way to a 3-13 finish, the fans and the media once again despair of losing football, resulting in a sparsely populated CBS in the second halves of blowouts against the Ravens and Steelers. Again meeting with and seeking the advice of his harshest critics, Randy Lerner invites an assembly of radio talk show hosts and bloggers to chart the team's path via a day-long session of loudly shouted and internally conflicting advice. Around the time that a long-time radio host stands up, walks over to the buffet, and asks "WHO WANTS SOME MINI CORN DOGS?", Lerner has decided that the only way to survive the meeting is to either kill everyone in the room or become a raging alcoholic. Grabbing a bottle of whisky, he chooses the latter and randomly picks one person from the meeting to become his Matt Millen. In future years, Northern Ohio rediscovers its love of high school football. The end.
In the coming days check back to the OBR for more 2011 season predictions including the worst case scenario for the 2011 Browns, which overblown offseason/preseason story will eventually prove meaningless, the level of optimism during the stretch of games in December and the playoff field and the Browns' final record.